Autonomy Support in the Classroom A Review From Self-Determination Theory

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DOI: 10.1027/1016-9040/a000234
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Why are some students more engaged in and adjusted to school than others? Why are some students more competent and why do they perform better than others? Self-determination theory is a theory of human motivation to explain students’ classroom behavior, learning process, and relationship with the environment. The goal of this paper is to review the concept of autonomy support in the classroom within the self-determination framework. Autonomy is defined as a form of voluntary action, stemming from a person’s interest and with no external pressure. Social environments that support autonomy provide meaningful rationale, acknowledge negative feelings, use noncontrolling language, offer meaningful choices, and nurture internal motivational resources. In classrooms where teachers support autonomy, students improve their academic performance, are more creative and better adjusted, engage more in school, and feel less stress. We provide theoretical and methodological suggestions for future research.
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Original Articles and Reviews
Autonomy Support in the
A Review From Self-Determination Theory
Juan L. Núñez and Jaime León
Department of Psychology and Sociology, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain
Abstract. Why are some students more engaged in and adjusted to school than
others? Why are some students more competent and why do they perform better
than others? Self-determination theory is a theory of human motivation to explain
students’ classroom behavior, learning process, and relationship with the environ-
ment. The goal of this paper is to review the concept of autonomy support in the
classroom within the self-determination framework. Autonomy is defined as a form
of voluntary action, stemming from a person’s interest and with no external pressure.
Social environments that support autonomy provide meaningful rationale, acknowl-
edge negative feelings, use noncontrolling language, offer meaningful choices, and
nurture internal motivational resources. In classrooms where teachers support
autonomy, students improve their academic performance, are more creative and
better adjusted, engage more in school, and feel less stress. We provide theoretical
and methodological suggestions for future research.
Keywords: academic context, autonomy support, motivation, self-determination
Students usually display different attitudes in the classroom.
Sometimes, they may be active and cooperative, and
sometimes they may adopt passive and reluctant attitudes.
Within the framework of the self-determination theory
(SDT; Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000), Reeve (2006, 2009) has
explained how students’ behavior and feelings depend on
social factors such as the teachers’ attitudes. The class envi-
ronment generated by the teacher is an essential element to
explain students’ motivation and emotions. Therefore, in
order to understandstudents’ behavior, it is necessary to study
the teacher’s role. SDT is a macro-theory of personality,
human motivation, and optimal functioning that has been
established as a theoretical framework to explain these issues.
In this review, we focus on autonomy support within the
SDT framework. We will introduce this concept by describ-
ing intrinsic motivation and the Cognitive Evaluation
Theory; we will then explain the concept of autonomy
and the different types of extrinsic motivation posited by
the Organismic Integration Theory. Finally, we will address
the Basic Psychological Needs Theory to explain the moti-
vational determinants of an autonomous behavior. These
three latter theories are considered mini-theories within
the broader SDT framework. Subsequently, we will focus
on autonomy support. To conclude, we will highlight some
aspects that might be of interest for future studies.
Intrinsic Motivation
The intensity with which adolescents study, as well as why
they study, may be relevant because people not only vary in
the amount of an activity they perform, but also in the types
of motivation to perform it (Ryan & Deci, 2000a). In the
educational context, intrinsic, and extrinsic motivation are
two key aspects (e.g., Habgood & Ainsworth, 2011; Lepper,
Corpus, & Iyengar, 2005). Intrinsic motivation is character-
ized by satisfaction, interest, and pleasure when performing
an activity, whereas extrinsic motivation is defined by low
levels of satisfaction and consists of engaging in behaviors
due to external reinforcement such as obtaining a reward or
internal pressures such as avoiding feeling guilty. Deci
(1971) proposed that the cognitive appraisal of rewards
would affect intrinsic motivation, finding that intrinsic
motivation decreased when money was used as an external
reward, but increased when verbal reinforcement and posi-
tive feedback were used. These results can be explained by
the Cognitive Evaluation Theory. This mini-theory proposes
two processes to explain changes in intrinsic motivation
(Frederick & Ryan, 1995; Ryan, 1982). The first process
is through locus of causality. The construct locus of causal-
ity refers to the extent to which individuals perceive their
own actions as a result of either external or internal causes.
Ó2015 Hogrefe Publishing European Psychologist 2015; Vol. 20(4):275–283
DOI: 10.1027/1016-9040/a000234
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External rewards can shift the perceived locus of causality
from internal to external, thereby diminishing intrinsic moti-
vation. However, providing meaningful choices would have
the opposite effect, increasing intrinsic motivation. The sec-
ond process consists of enhancing competence: if students
feel more competent, their intrinsic motivation will increase.
Autonomous Motivation
Autonomy, or the ability to think, feel, and make decisions
by oneself is a developmentally normative process and
particularly important to adolescents within the school
context (McElhaney, Allen, Stephenson, & Hare, 2009).
Autonomous motivation means that students engage volun-
tarily in the learning process, that is, the individual is origin
of his or her actions. Within SDT, acting autonomously
implies being self-governing and the initiator of one’s
own activities (Gillet, Vallerand, & Lafrenière, 2011).
Actions are engaged in freely based on one’s values and
interests; these individuals perceive an internal locus of
causality of their actions (deCharms, 1968). Autonomy is
not the same as independence because a person may be vol-
untarily dependent or forced to rely or depend on others
(Ryan, La Guardia, Solky-Butzel, Chirkov, & Kim, 2005).
Weinstein, Przybylski, and Ryan (2012) distinguish three
facets of the concept of autonomy: (a) authorship or self-
congruence, referring to the individual experience of being
the actor of one’s own behavior; (b) interest-taking, which
refers to the spontaneous tendency to think openly about
internal and external developments. Interest-taking facili-
tates self-awareness and self-understanding; and (c) absence
of internal and external pressures.
In contrast, in controlled self-regulation, people tend to
feel that they have less choice. In this case, their behavior
depends on external pressures, rewards, or other external
elements. Controlled behaviors are characterized by exter-
nally perceived locus of causality. People with low auton-
omy perceive a lower degree of personal choice and
initiative, and their behavior is a response to other people’s
pressure, inner expectations, or internal or self-imposed
It is important to note that students will be intrinsically
motivated only for activities that they find interesting,
novel, or challenging, but many school activities do not
match these ideal conditions, thus, it is important to know
how to motivate students to comply with school activi-
ties without external pressures (Ryan & Deci, 2000b).
For instance, when it comes to motivating students extrinsi-
cally, the pursued reward may be found in the environment
or it may be internal (Jang, Kim, & Reeve, 2012), thus,
students may do homework for different reasons: to avoid
parental punishment, to avoid feeling guilty, or to get good
grades in order to be admitted in a certain university. All of
these motives are extrinsic, varying from external to auton-
omous. When students do homework to avoid being pun-
ished, they feel controlled by external forces, but when
they do it to gain access to a certain university, the regula-
tion is more autonomous, as the goal of the behavior is
intrinsic to the self, instead of coming from the outer envi-
ronment. In this example, we have seen two assumptions of
the Organismic Integration Theory, a mini-theory of the
SDT framework. According to the first assumption, people
tend to internalize values and practices carried out under
external regulation: the student began doing homework
pressured by external forces but ended doing it due to
intrinsic goals. The second assumption described in the
example is that these types of motivations vary in their inte-
gration into the self, going from external to autonomous
(Ryan, Williams, Patrick, & Deci, 2009).
There are two types of autonomous motivation: intrinsic
motivation, which implies engagement in an activity for the
pleasure and satisfaction inherent to the activity and which
should considered a sign of self-determination (Deci &
Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2000b), and identified regula-
tion, which is an autonomous form of extrinsic motivation,
as the individual values the goal of the behavior and consid-
ers it important. In contrast, controlled motivation implies
that students engage in the learning process due to a sense
of pressure and coercion. Controlled motivation includes
two types of extrinsic motivation: external regulation,
which refers to engagement in an activity to gain rewards
or to avoid punishment; and introjected regulation, in which
behavior is regulated by requirements and demands and
individuals begin to internalize the reasons for their actions
and are energized by factors such as an avoidance of shame
or guilt, contingent self-esteem, and ego involvement (Deci
& Ryan, 2008). The motivational literature has established
that autonomous and controlled motivation lead to very
different outcomes, whereby autonomously motivated stu-
dents display greater psychological well-being (Núñez,
Fernández, León, & Grijalvo, 2015), better performance
(Kusurkar, Ten Cate, Vos, Westers, & Croiset, 2013), and
greater engagement (Hafen et al., 2012).
Deci and Ryan (2000) consider that autonomously moti-
vated students believe in what they do, feel self-congruent,
perceive their behavior as integrated, and are open to self-
exploration. Low autonomy reflects a general feeling that
one’s behavior is controlled by external influence or contin-
gencies, including social pressure (deCharms, 1968; Ryan
& Connell, 1989). Both autonomous and controlled motiva-
tion energize and direct behavior, in contrast to amotivation,
which occurs when no contingencies are perceived between
the behaviors and their outcomes. In this case, the individ-
ual is neither intrinsically nor extrinsically motivated but
only feels incompetence and loss of control (Deci & Ryan,
1985; Vallerand & Ratelle, 2002).
Basic Psychological Needs Theory
The basic psychological needs theory (BPNT) is a mini-
theory stating that the fulfillment of the three basic
psychological needs – autonomy, competence, and related-
ness – will affect one’s tendencies toward the integration of
a priori external regulations, leading to a sense of well-
being. Therefore, environments that support these needs
(instead of thwarting them) will have a positive effect on
276 J. L. Núñez & J. León: Autonomy Support in the Classroom
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European Psychologist 2015; Vol. 20(4):275–283 Ó2015 Hogrefe Publishing
well-being. These needs are innate, universal, and essential
for growth, well-being, and personal and social develop-
ment (Ryan & Deci, 2000b), regardless of gender, social
class, or cultural context (Vansteenkiste, Niemiec, &
Soenens, 2010). The need for autonomy refers to the expe-
rience of will and psychological freedom and is determined
by the level of external pressure when performing an action
(deCharms, 1968; Deci & Ryan, 1985). Individuals who are
autonomous feel that they choose their behavior, and per-
ceive this behavior as something born within, which agrees
with their values and interests. The need for competence
implies that individuals want to interact effectively with
their environment in order to feel capable of producing
desired outcomes and preventing undesired ones (Connell
& Wellborn, 1991). Finally, the need for relatedness refers
to the desire to feel connected with, and mutually support-
ive of, significant others. BPNT posits that need satisfaction
predicts individual differences in health and wellness across
time. This has been studied in longitudinal analyses, in
which the accumulation of these experiences over time
was shown to predict wellness outcomes (León & Núñez,
2013; Quested & Duda, 2009).
The three basic psychological needs provide the basis
for predicting whether or not the social environment will
promote an autonomous behavior (Deci & Vansteenkiste,
2004). This is an important aspect because the adequacy
of a social environment (e.g., a classroom) to meet autono-
mous needs determines, for example, the adolescents’ level
of engagement. This has been empirically supported in a
longitudinal school-based study where adolescents’ percep-
tion of their level of autonomy in the classroom at the
beginning of the school year predicted their engagement
at the end of the year (Hafen et al., 2012). Sheldon and
Filak (2008) found support for a model in which teacher
autonomy support directly affects student need satisfaction.
Of these three needs, autonomy plays the most important
role in the SDT (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Gagne & Deci,
2005) and has received more attention from SDT research-
ers, but it should be borne in mind that all three needs are
necessary for optimal functioning (Ryan, 1995). When peo-
ple engage in activities that make them feel autonomous or
self-driven, they will feel enhanced well-being, that is, opti-
mal psychological functioning and positive experiences
(Vansteenkiste, Ryan, & Deci, 2008).
Motivational Determinants
Social factors do not influence motivation directly, but
instead mediated by autonomy, competence, and related-
ness. If social factors satisfy basic psychological needs,
motivation will be more integrated within the self (Deci,
Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991). This aspect is espe-
cially important in academic contexts. Teachers will
increase students’ autonomous motivation if they promote
a social classroom context in which students feel that the
learning process depends on them, their behavior is related
to their interests, they feel competent, and that they belong
to and are connected with the group. Consequently, these
students will function optimally at the cognitive, behavioral,
and emotional levels.
Learning experiences that fulfill the needs of autonomy
and competence enhance autonomous motivation, whereas
events that reduce these feelings lessen it. Both autonomy
and competence are experiences that are completely deter-
mined by the social environment (Ryan et al., 2009). One of
the most important and most extensively studied social fac-
tors within this framework is autonomy support (Deci &
Ryan, 1991; Stefanou, Perencevich, Dicintio, & Turner,
Autonomy Support
An essential aspect that teachers should take into account in
classroom is the importance of supporting students’ auton-
omy (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Autonomy support is the inter-
personal behavior teachers provide during instruction to
identify, nurture, and build students’ inner motivational
resources (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Reeve, Deci, & Ryan,
2004). Thus, autonomy support refers to an atmosphere
where students are not pressured to behave in a specific
way, and where they are, instead, encouraged to be them-
selves (Ryan & Deci, 2004).
Deci, Eghrari, Patrick, and Leone (1994) argue that
three interpersonal conditions are necessary for individuals
to feel that their autonomy is supported: providing mean-
ingful rationale (i.e., verbal explanations that help others
to understand why self-regulation of the activity would have
personal utility), acknowledging negative feelings (i.e.,
tension-alleviating acknowledgment that one’s request to
others clashes with their personal inclinations and that their
feelings of conflict are legitimate), and using noncontrol-
ling language (i.e., communications that minimize pressure,
absence of the terms ‘‘should,’’ ‘‘must,’ and ‘‘have to, con-
veying a sense of choice and flexibility in the phrasing).
New interpersonal conditions based on the theory have
been added to the definition of autonomy support, such
as: offering meaningful choices (i.e., providing information
about options, encouraging choice-making, and initiation of
one’s own action) and nurturing inner motivational
resources (i.e., reinforcing the other’s interest, enjoyment,
psychological need satisfaction, or sense of challenge or
curiosity while engaging in a requested activity). According
to Su and Reeve (2011), 84% of intervention studies
designed to support autonomy include at least four of these
five conditions that define autonomy support. Furthermore,
Assor, Roth, and Deci (2004) include as an essential ele-
ment of autonomy support, the behavior of providing
unconditional positive regard, and Reeve (2009) adds dis-
playing patience so as to allow time for self-paced learning
to occur.
According to Stefanou et al. (2004), the characteristic
elements of autonomy support can be classified into three
categories: (a) organizational autonomy support: students
can choose group members, evaluation procedures, due
dates, etc.; (b) procedural autonomy support: students can
choose what materials to use in their schoolwork, how to
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display their work, etc.; and (c) cognitive autonomy sup-
port: students can find multiple solutions to problems,
debate ideas freely, have to time to make decisions, etc.
These categories have different effects: organizational
autonomy support can make students feel better and more
comfortable with the way the classroom works, procedural
autonomy support can foster initial learning engagement,
while cognitive autonomy support encourages a stronger
investment in learning activities.
In the classroom, autonomy support has been seen as
opposite or mutually exclusive to the concept of structure
(Daniels & Bizar, 1998). The reason for this is that structure
was erroneously understood as control. Structure refers to
the amount and clarity of information that teachers provide
to students about their expectations and ways of effectively
achieving the desired educational outcomes (Skinner &
Belmont, 1993). It helps to provide clear and consistent
guidelines in class, just the opposite of a chaotic situation
in which teachers are confusing or contradictory, or fail
to communicate clear expectations and directions. Structure
has positive motivational consequences and is and should
be complemented with autonomy support (Jang, Reeve, &
Deci, 2010; Sierens, Vansteenkiste, Goossens, Soenens, &
Dochy, 2009). In fact, students’ engagement will be greater
if teachers support autonomy and structure the class.
It is noteworthy that, in the educational context, auton-
omy support and controlling behavior have been identified
as opposite elements along a continuum ranging from con-
trolling to very autonomy-supportive (Reeve, Jang, Carrell,
Jeon, & Barch, 2004; Soenens & Vansteenkiste, 2005). In
this line, Deci and Ryan (1985, 1991) argue that autonomy
support implies promoting choice, minimizing pressure to
perform tasks in a certain way, and encouraging initiative,
in contrast to controlling behavior, characterized by dead-
lines, external rewards, or potential punishments (Deci,
Connell, & Ryan, 1989; Deci & Ryan, 1991). However,
some authors have proposed that controlling behavior might
not be the exact opposite of autonomy-support (Silk,
Morris, Kanaya, & Steinberg, 2003). In this sense, teachers
can employ an autonomy-supportive style and, at the same
time, display controlling behavior, such as pressuring
students and being negative (Reeve & Jang, 2006; Tessier,
Sarrazin, & Ntoumanis, 2008). The opposite of autonomy
support is controllingness. Controllingness refers to teach-
ers’ interpersonal behavior during instruction to gain their
students’ compliance with their prescribed way of thinking,
feeling, or behaving. Controlling teachers motivate students
through extrinsic incentives and pressuring language,
so that students’ classroom participation is not regulated
by their inner motivational resources. Students in class-
rooms with autonomy-supportive teachers, as compared
with those who have controlling teachers, will feel better
understood, and teachers will accept students’ decisions
instead of directing their way of thinking. Autonomy-
supportive teachers will offer choices of different activities,
they use noncontrolling and informative feedback, nurture
inner motivational resources, and acknowledge and accept
expressions of negative affect (Deci et al., 1989; Reeve,
2009; Su & Reeve, 2011). Some studies have shown that
the teachers’ attitudes – autonomous versus controlling –
are stable throughout the academic year (Deci, Schwartz,
Scheinman, & Ryan, 1981), and multiple benefits have
been observed, for example: better academic performance
in classrooms (Flink, Boggiano, & Barrett, 1990), greater
perceived competence (Álvarez, Estevan, Falcó, & Castillo,
2013; Williams, Wiener, Markakis, Reeve, & Deci, 1994),
greater creativity (Koestner, Ryan, Bernieri, & Holt,
1984), more school engagement (Assor, Kaplan, & Roth,
2002), higher grades and better school adjustment (Patrick,
Anderman, & Ryan, 2002; Ryan, Stiller, & Lynch, 1994;
Wentzel, 2002), and less experienced stress (Torsheim &
Wold, 2001). Recently, Bonneville-Roussy, Vallerand, and
Bouffard (2013) showed that the students’ persistence
towards their own schooling could be partly explained by
the autonomy-supportive style implemented by their teach-
ers. These results show the importance of supporting auton-
omy in the classroom to predict students’ educational
But, what are the determinants or predictors of an auton-
omy-supportive teaching style? Pelletier, Seguin-Levesque,
and Legault (2002) tested the impact of various social fac-
tors, concluding that teachers’ self-determined motivation
positively predicted autonomy-supportive teaching behav-
iors. Taylor, Ntoumanis, and Standage (2008) found that
teachers’ perception of the satisfaction of their psychologi-
cal needs predicted autonomy-supportive teaching styles,
and Taylor, Ntoumanis, and Smith (2009) showed that
teachers’ own performance appraisal, cultural norms, and
time constraints determined their autonomy-supportive
teaching. In contrast, Soenens, Sierens, Vansteenkiste,
Dochy, and Goossens (2012) found that teachers’ perceived
emotional exhaustion and depersonalization were predictors
of controlling teaching styles.
We highlight the fact that teachers’ adoption of an
autonomy-supportive style in classroom is not enough; it
is also necessary for students to perceive that the teacher
supports their autonomy (Hagger et al., 2007). Scientific lit-
erature has shown that perceived autonomy support in the
classroom is associated with an increase of students’ auton-
omous motivation. Vansteenkiste et al. (2012) noted that
students in the high autonomy support-clear expectations
cluster reported the highest degree of autonomous motiva-
tion. Also, Koka (2013) showed that students who perceived
that their teacher emphasized teaching, took students’ abil-
ities into account, and exhibited interest and concern for the
students’ welfare experienced a higher level of autonomous
motivation in physical education. Recently, De Naeghel
et al. (2014) stated that teachers’ autonomy support was
related to intrinsic reading motivation, particularly of girls.
In addition, autonomy support in the classroom is
related to greater well-being (Black & Deci, 2000), better
performance (Boggiano, Flink, Shields, Seelbach, &
Barrett, 1993; Vansteenkiste, Simons, Lens, Sheldon, &
Deci, 2004), greater engagement (Hafen et al., 2012),
higher intrinsic motivation (Reeve & Jang, 2006), and,
finally, improved time management and concentration
(Vansteenkiste, Zhou, Lens, & Soenens, 2005). Taylor and
Ntoumanis (2007) showed that the effect of perceived
278 J. L. Núñez & J. León: Autonomy Support in the Classroom
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European Psychologist 2015; Vol. 20(4):275–283 Ó2015 Hogrefe Publishing
autonomy support on well-being was mediated by students
autonomy. In short, autonomy-supportive teaching is related
to educational benefits (Reeve, Ryan, Deci, & Jang, 2007).
It is also important to underscore that autonomy sup-
port is independent of students’ achievement; that is, if
students’ perceive teacher autonomy support, both high-
and low-achieving students should experience the same
educational benefits (Guay, Ratelle, Larose, Vallerand, &
Vitaro, 2013).
Future Directions
Motivation is the engine that drives our behavior, but not all
kinds of motivation are adequate for optimum classroom
behavior. SDT states that more self-determined or autono-
mous forms of motivation involve more positive conse-
quences, such as long-term task persistence. A deep
analysis of the determinants of persistence in the classroom
would have a significant social impact in areas with high
dropout rates. Future studies could show which student
environmental factors (e.g., structure or involvement) may
explain such an important dimension as students’ persis-
tence in school. Cross-cultural studies comparing the
explanatory level of autonomy-supportive style on students’
persistence in different countries will be of interest.
SDT shows that certain environmental factors are
responsible for predicting or determining students’ autono-
mous motivation. However, this influence is not direct, but
mediated by the basic psychological needs (autonomy, com-
petence, and relatedness) that must be satisfied. As seen
above, one of the most important environmental factors is
students’ autonomy support in the classroom provided by
their teachers. This teaching style is of great benefit to
the students, as opposed to the controlling teaching style.
However, one deficit of the autonomy support in the class-
room research is the lack of study of these teaching style
determinants. Very few studies have explored the autonomy
support antecedents (Roth, & Weinstock, 2013). Research
has identified several factors that influence autonomy-
supportive teaching behaviors, such as teachers’ self-
determined motivation, their personal characteristics, their
perception of the satisfaction of their basic psychological
needs, and their own performance appraisal, cultural norms,
and time constraints. However, which of these factors exerts
the greatest influence is unknown. Future research should
examine which identified environmental factors have the
greatest influence on teachers in order to develop evi-
dence-based interventions. Currently, there is an intense
debate on cross-culturally universal benefits of autonomy
support in the classroom. SDT states that the benefits of
autonomy support are universal (Chirkov, & Ryan, 2001;
Vansteenkiste et al., 2005), but several authors disagree
with this universal approach, arguing that such benefits
are only present in students from individualistic societies
(Markus & Kitayama, 2003). As indicated by Reeve et al.
(2014), future cross-cultural studies contemplating collec-
tivistic and individualistic societies could cast more light
on this debate. In this regard, Reeve et al. (2014), in a
multinational study, found a modest negative correlation
between autonomy support and teacher control, which
could indicate that teachers consider these two styles as
independent and not so much as opposites. Future research
could consider this variable and help to resolve the debate
about the universality of autonomy support (Reeve et al.,
According to the tenets of SDT, the controlling context
is associated with negative consequences, as it does not sat-
isfy students’ need for autonomy. However, Radel, Pelletier,
Sarrazin, and Baxter (2014) analyzed the paradoxical effect
of controlling contexts on intrinsic motivation. Results
showed that when an individual is exposed to a controlling
context, this generates an increase of intrinsic motivation in
the next task. The authors argue that individuals attempt to
restore their lost autonomy in the next task if this task has
no controlling elements. Autonomy restoration could be
evaluated in future studies. Another possible line of inquiry
to explain this phenomenon could be the analysis of indi-
viduals’ expectations before facing a task. Radel, Sarrazin,
Legrain, and Wild (2010) claim that students’ intrinsic
motivation depends more on individual expectations based
on the preliminary information received than on teaching
style. In any case, this effect should be examined in greater
depth in the academic context.
Su and Reeve (2011) clearly establish the elements that
define autonomy support in the classroom, and the vast
majority of autonomy support intervention programs have
integrated them. Currently, it is recommended to include
multiple and complementary elements of autonomy support
in an intervention program, but further research is needed to
determine the essential elements of optimal autonomy sup-
port. In this sense, qualitative analyses may be necessary to
include new conceptualizations of autonomy support in the
classroom and modify the existing ones. To explore the
variety of ways in which teachers provide autonomy in
the real context of class may be relevant. In many tradi-
tional classrooms, autonomy support is difficult to imple-
ment because the school resources and tasks limit the
availability of interesting experiences (Rogat, Witham, &
Chinn, 2014). Tsai, Kunter, Lüdtke, Trautwein, and Ryan
(2008) showed that providing a greater sense of control in
the cognitive activities of class increased students’ interest
in lessons of different subjects. However, there is very little
direct empirical research of the three categories of auton-
omy support proposed by Stefanou et al. (2004): organiza-
tional autonomy support, procedural autonomy support, and
cognitive autonomy support. Future studies could analyze
more deeply the effects of the three categories on the learn-
ing experience in the classroom.
Most studies have reached conclusions on the basis
of student perceptions of their teachers’ teaching style.
A multi-informant approach can prevent this weakness.
The assessment of student perceptions of teaching dimen-
sions needs to be complemented with teacher perceptions
and direct observations. It might be interesting to compare
students’ self-reports, teachers’ perceptions, and direct
Both in childhood and adolescence, the figures of tea-
cher and parents become reference points for students’
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development. SDT proposes that autonomy support by
significant others (i.e., teacher, parents, and friends) pro-
motes perceived competence, autonomous regulation, and
academic achievement (Guay et al., 2013). It would be
interesting to study in greater depth the relationship
between teacher autonomy support and the autonomy sup-
port provided by significant others. It seems likely that par-
ents and teachers may sometimes be autonomy-supportive
and other times controlling, in order for students to achieve
their educational goals. However, this explanation is more
theoretical than scientific and should be confirmed in future
research. The influence of peers on individual and social
development is obvious. However, research has focused
very little on the effect of peers on student motivation.
Studies of the influence of peers’ motivational characteris-
tics on student autonomous motivation at school could be
especially interesting. Very little is known about the influ-
ence that friends may have compared to the influence of
parents and teachers.
According to some of the recommendations proposed
by Guay, Ratelle, and Chanal (2008), we consider it neces-
sary to perform, on the one hand, a greater number of
longitudinal studies to demonstrate the causal link between
positive variables more effectively – for example, the
effects of autonomy support on autonomous motivation
and the effects on the latter on positive outcomes in the
class setting, such as persistence, achievement, and well-
being; and, on the other hand, more intervention studies
at different education levels and in children from different
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Received February 13, 2014
Accepted January 27, 2015
Published online October 20, 2015
About the authors
Juan L. Núñez, PhD, is a senior lecturer
and director of Motivational Studies
Group at the Department of Psychology
and Sociology, University of Las Palmas
de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain.
His research focuses on the analysis of the
psychometric properties of assessment
instruments, and the study of the ante-
cedents and consequences of motivation in
educational settings.
Jaime León, PhD, is postdoctoral
researcher at the Department of Educa-
tion, University of Las Palmas de Gran
Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain. Currently
is dedicated to exploring the explanatory
factors of academic achievement in
Secondary education.
Juan L. Núñez
Department of Psychology and Sociology
University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Calle Santa Juana de Arco, 1
35004 Las Palmas
Tel. +34 928 458924
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  • ... Longitudinal designs would be beneficial to examine how these relationships play out over time. As previously reported, longitudinal designs could share new insights on how teacher-induced need-supportive behaviors vary over time [48] and how this impacts student grit towards academic performance. Second, this study was conducted with a sample of Portuguese college students. ...
    Full-text available
    Background: Individuals who possess passion and perseverance to extensively work and study through challenges and adversity to achieve a set of goals are likely to reach higher achievement compared to others who lack similar facets. However, an under-researched question lingers over the effect of teacher-induced behaviors on academic outcomes such as grades and performance. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between teacher-induced autonomy support and student academic performance considering the mediating effect of basic psychological needs satisfaction, intrinsic motivation, and grit as two-independent factors. Methods: A convenience sample of 474 Sports Science students (Mage = 21.83 years; SD = 3.91) participated in the study. All participants completed a multi-section survey assessing the variables under analysis. Results: The measurement and structural model displayed acceptable fit, hence direct and indirect effects were examined among the variables of interest. Basic psychological needs and intrinsic motivation seem to display a mediating role between perceived autonomy support and academic performance, through perseverance. Contrarily, grit-passion did not exhibit a significant indirect effect. Conclusions: Current results shed new insights on how perseverance can shape student motivation and school success considering the autonomy support induced by teachers.
  • Article
    Background Accurate psychometrics benefit from assessing given constructs within specifically defined con-texts. The assessment of context-specific irrational beliefs as put forth in Rational Emotive Be-haviour Therapy (REBT), under the three basic psychological needs described in Self Determi-nation Theory (SDT), represents a new path for research. Under the umbrella of Positive Psy-chology, a new scale for adolescents combining REBT and SDT is the first step towards concep-tualizing irrational beliefs within the three basic psychological needs. The integration of REBT and SDT would provide a more fully integrated view of adolescent mental health, and as such could provide a more cost-effective approach for preventing cognitive, emotive, and behavioural disturbances in young people. Aims The main aim of this paper is to outline the development and validation of the Rational Emotive Self Determination Scale for Adolescents (RESD-A), which measures irrational beliefs about the three basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness). Methods To achieve this main study aim, we report the results of four studies that test the factor struc-ture, internal consistency, construct, predictive validity, and test-retest reliability of the 51-item RESD-A, within samples of Turkish adolescents. Results Data analyses confirmed the theoretical expectations and yielded promising results for the va-lidity and reliability of the RESD-A. Conclusions The results suggest that assessment of irrational beliefs in the context of autonomy, competence and relatedness is possible and valuable for the treatment of adolescents.
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    The motivation to learn a foreign language is a complex process. According to the Ministry of National Education of Colombia -MEN-, speaking English is a generic competence to be developed at all educational levels. In this regard and based on the Theory of Self-Determination -SDT-, this qualitative phenomenological study aims to identify and analyse the aspects related to the motivation to learn English in undergraduate students of the Virtual and Distance modalities -E-Learning-. The main instrument used for data collection was a semi-structured individual interviews. The participants in the research were a group of 16 women and 3 men. The analysis was carried out through semantic categorizations and with the support of NVivo 11 software, which lets assume that motivation for learning English is strongly influenced by external factors.
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